Citizen Paparazzi Informants in South Korea

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South Korean School Teaches Neighbors To Spy On Neighbors
Law-breakers in South Korea, beware.
Citizens who videotape illegal activity are on the loose and making extra income by selling the tapes to the police.
But some observers say a school that trains these citizen spies is turning neighbour against neighbour.

Ji Soo-hyun leads a double life. Starting six-months ago the housewife began a career catching lawbreakers red handed. The 54-year old says her specialty is going undercover at private tutoring schools.

INT: (Korean) Ji Soo-hyun, Citizen Paparazza
“I pretend that I am going to enroll my kids in the school. I ask the faculty about extra services. There are a lot of illegal activities in these schools, like staying open too late and charging additional fees. These are the types of things I record.”

When Ji is on her mission, she uses a small, concealed camera she hides in her bag. She is one of several hundred citizens who have been trained to record secret video of other people and businesses that break the law.

(Video Courtesy of Seoul Paparazzi School) This video was taken at a pharmacy in Seoul. Another citizen spy recorded the cashier that didn’t charge for a plastic bag, which is required by law in South Korea.The cameraman, as well as Ji Soo-hyun, are students of the Seoul paparazzi school.Here they learn the ins and outs of taking undercover video. They can try out tiny cameras that are disguised as jewelry. And they are taught which illegal activities can make them the most money if reported to the authorities.

Moon Seong-ok has run the paparazzi academy for 14 years. He helps his students find buyers for their secret footage.

INT: (KOREAN) Moon Seong-ok, Director, Seoul Paparazzi School
“The students who come here want to make money. I contact them with police agencies, local governments, health agencies and education authorities who pay them.”

Moon claims citizen paparazzi can earn between 20 and 30,000 dollars a year.But some other citizens are concerned that money is turning neighbors into spies. Koo Ja-kyoung describes himself as an ordinary guy who is alarmed at what paparazzi students are doing to his community.

INT: (KOREAN) Koo Ja-kyoung, Seoul
“I was just walking around one day and I saw an old lady crying. I asked her what was wrong and she told me she had to pay a fine because she put out the garbage using an unauthorized plastic bag. She said that a citizen paparazzo took a picture of her and gave it to the police.”

Koo says he was so upset with that woman’s story that he filed a complaint with the National Human Rights’ Commission.
That was several years ago and according to the Commision, until now Koo it’s the only person to complain about citizen paparazzi. The Commission has yet to decide whether or not to hear the case. Its not that South Koreans don’t care about this alleged spying, it’s that they are afraid to speak out against it.

That’s according to Chun Sang-chin, a sociologist at Seoul’s Sogang University. He says most citizens don’t like what the paparazzi do.

INT: (KIREAN) Chun Song-chin, Sogang University
“There is a certain cultural sensitivity here. People are worried that if they come forward and complain then others will think they are actually doing something wrong or illegal. They want others to think that what they do privately is as good as what they do publically, so they stay quiet about these things.”

Chun says the government should stop paying for these secret videos.

INT: Chun
“The government is outsourcing its responsibilities to the citizens. Everyone knows that is wrong. But if you look at Korea’s political history, of dictatorship, it just isn’t a concern for most people. I think it would be hard to create a public debate about the paparazzi”

So for now, South Koreans will do their best to keep their private lives behind closed doors. Moon Seong-ok of the Seoul paparazzi school says he feels no shame about what he or his students do.

INT: (KOREAN) Moon Seong-ok, Director of Seoul paparazzi School
“Good citizens who abide by the law like what the paparazzi citizens do. But for those who break the law, they are the ones who are uncomfortable with what my students do.”

Citizen paparazza Ji Soo-hyun agrees. She says she does not feel sympathy for people breaking the law.

INT: (KOREAN) Ji Soo-hyun, Citizen Paparazza
“At first I felt guilty about reporting on these people, but the more I did it, I realized how much illegal activity is going on around us. These people are not poor or struggling to make a living, so I do not feel bad about reporting on them.”

Ji says she is now turning her camera on people who skip out on paying their taxes.

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